EQUITABLE LENDING LEADERS: The Chamber’s economic development arm, the North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation (NCMDC), participated in a 12-week cohort designed to provide equitable outcomes in our lending programs. Two of our team members worked through the cohort to connect with underserved populations, business owners, and resource partners to determine what changes or additions to our programs would help us provide more equitable outcomes for minority and low-income communities. The program ran from June to November 2022, and the team is now working on ideas that will help us reach our goals.
LATINX OUTREACH: The Chamber and NCMDC have continued efforts to engage and support Latinx businesses throughout Central Massachusetts. Efforts have included providing technical assistance, referrals to different resources, and collaborating with the Spanish American Center. We have also advertised our services in the Spanish publication El VOCERO, Facebook and LinkedIn.
REACCREDITATION: As reported in our previous edition, the Chamber is currently in the midst of five-year reaccreditation process. Chamber accreditation is an extensive, self-review process that is expected to last six to eight months to complete. We hope to have our submission prepared for the Accrediting Board by the end of March and decision made by July. The Chamber can only earn reaccreditation by meeting rigorous standards for leadership, staff development, chamber policy and procedures, programs – including governance, government affairs, technology, planning and finance. Our Chamber is one of less than a handful of chambers in Massachusetts to have received accreditation. This exemplifies our commitment to excellence and to supporting our members and communities at a high level.
NEW LOANS: The NCMDC has approved and closed 7 Small Business Loans for a total of $286,500, since Oct. 1, 2022. Three loans totaling $22,500 were approved and closed through the SBA Microloan program and the other 4 loans totaling $264,000 were funded through our CDFI loan program. Four of the loans were granted to fund start-up businesses. New loans are finding NCMDC through our resource partners, banking partners and through the SBA.
TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE: During the last quarter, our economic development team provided 678 hours of direct technical assistance to existing and start-up businesses in the region. Several members of our team also sit on local boards within the communities we serve, helping us stay informed on small business activities and various grants and programs available to our small businesses.
MINI-GRANTS: The NCMDC continues to offer mini-grants between $500 – $5,000 to our borrowers to assist with technical assistance. Examples of professional services that the grant can help cover include accounting/bookkeeping, marketing, and legal services. Prioritization is given to existing loan clients but we will consider other small businesses in North Central Massachusetts with a demonstrated need. For the quarter, NCMDC has awarded 3 mini grants totaling $8,178.69 for bookkeeping, marketing and signage assistance.
PODCAST SERIES: The Inside North Central Massachusetts Podcast series has hit over 50 episodes, and is now releasing episodes weekly. Listenership has continued to grow over time. Since the launch, we have had over 1,000 downloads on Podbean; over 475 on Apple; and 81 on Spotify. We have unable to determine downloads via Google Podcasts, but believe the numbers are strong via that channel too. The Chamber has invested in podcast equipment including a sound board; four headsets; four microphones and stands. This has allowed us to venture out on the road and a new series from member location called “On The Road”. To date, we have visited over 15 members representing restaurants, retailers and more. In January we produced our first podcast in Spanish with Maribel Cruz stepping in as host. Thank you to all the members who have participated in interviews and/or listened to the new Podcast series.
TOURISM GRANT: The Chamber’s tourism arm, Visit North Central Massachusetts, is partnering with two of our neighboring regional tourism councils – the MetroWest Visitors Bureau and Discover Central Massachusetts – on a joint effort to promote our collective regions. The three organizations collectively applied for and were successful in securing a $1 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to support tourism marketing during the shoulder season. The grant will be split and used to help fund advertising campaigns over a two-year period (FY24 & FY25). This will be a nice boost to our existing marketing efforts and help to attract more visitors and groups.
STRONG ECOSYSTEM PROJECT: A small advisory committee of members worked with our consultant, RKG Associates, to develop a strategic plan to strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem for start-up and early stage companies in the region. The project builds off of the work of our One North Central Regional Economic Development Plan, which prioritizes efforts to grow the region from within through small business support programs and initiatives. MassTech provided a small grant to help fund the development of the plan. We have submitted the final plan to MassTech and are awaiting word on if additional funding will be awarded to help implement the elements of the plan.
ACCOUNTING: The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, North Central Mass Chamber Foundation, Johnny Appleseed Trail Association (Visit North Central), North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation and Chambers Insurance fiscal year-ends closed smoothly. The applicable Annual Audits and Tax Returns were processed and filed on-time and without incident.
HEALTH INSURANCE: Effective April 2023, next open-enrollment, the Chamber will no longer administer Tufts insurance, as they transition to a brokered account through their merger with Harvard Pilgrim. All existing Tufts employer groups with more than 5 employees will be directly brokered through Harvard Pilgrim and all groups with less employees will be brokered through SBSB (Small Business Service Bureau) or transitioned out to our other carriers brokered through Chambers Insurance, Inc. Our team has been working for several months with Tufts and SBSB to ensure a smooth transition of our Tufts subscribers without any interruption. We encourage any members who are impacted to contact us with any questions or concerns.
SOLAR PROGRAM: From its inception in August 2014 through December 2022 the solar field on Pleasant St. has produced 12,036,466 kWh of Net Metering Credits to the manufacturers participating in the Chamber’s program. The collective savings to participants totals $2,308,424.87.